The Lafayette Parish School Board races were decided without runoffs Saturday, with incumbents Tommy Angelle and Tehmi Chassion clinching third terms, and three new board members added to the nine-person body.
New members Kate Bailey Labue, District 7; Hannah Smith Mason, District 8; and former superintendent Donald Aguillard, District 9, each won handily over their opponents.
The 2019 election climate was drastically different than it was in 2014, when controversy surrounding then-superintendent Pat Cooper and his clashes with the School Board cast a shadow and emerged as a central issue.
This year, a divisive single issue did not emerge, and candidates focused on topics including sustainable district growth, the selection of a new superintendent, facility needs and student achievement.
All nine of the board seats were up for reelection this year, but in four districts, the incumbents drew no opponents: Mary Morrison, of 1; Elroy Broussard, of 3; Britt Latiolais, 5; and Justin Centanni, of 6.
Three School Board members — Jeremy Hidalgo, Erick Knezek and Dawn Morris — opted to step down from the board rather than run for reelection. Hidalgo instead ran for the District 3 seat on the newly created Lafayette Parish Council.
Thirteen candidates, including the two incumbents, qualified to compete for the five remaining seats.
The wide open races attracted seven candidates combined; with two women running in districts 7 and 8 and three men running in District 9.
The new board will be responsible for selecting the district’s next superintendent when its term begins Jan. 1. Interim Superintendent Irma Trosclair is under contract until June 30; Trosclair said when selected in April she’d be interested in the full-time position.
She replaced Aguillard, who retired in May after leading the school system for four years.
Incumbent Tommy Angelle beat out a crowded field to earn his third term on the board, after which he’ll be term limited. Angelle has been a longtime political fixture in Carencro, serving on the City Council and as the mayor for over 20 years.
Angelle, 73, leveraged his governing experience and background as a former middle school teacher and assistant principal during his campaign. The School Board member said he felt called to run again because he wants to continue improving the area’s schools, and he’s “raring to go.”
The incumbent said he was surprised he won the race outright; with three opponents he expected to go to a runoff. Angelle said the experience is humbling, and he’s proud to continue serving the schoolchildren of District 2 and the school system.
“It makes me humbled and of course very proud of our district. I’m thankful that the voters decided to support me in serving for my last term,” he said.
He cited aging facilities, teacher recruitment and retention and increased access to prekindergarten and supplemental education services as issues he’d like to continue addressing during his final term.
District 2 covers Carencro and some of north Lafayette, with Acadian Middle, Evangeline Elementary, Carencro Heights Elementary, Carencro Middle and Carencro High within the district’s boundaries.
Incumbent Tehmi Chassion clinched his third term on the board, besting challenger Erica Williams for a second time to represent District 4 on the Lafayette Parish School Board. Chassion went head to head with Williams in 2014, reclaiming his seat with 57% of the vote in that election.
Chassion spent part of his Saturday night at Northside High, checking the paper results taped to the polling location’s window with a flashlight. Friends and family were doing the same across District 4, studying the paper polls and refreshing online results on the Louisiana secretary of state’s website.
He learned he’d won reelection on his drive home, when his phone began dinging with text messages from School Board colleagues offering their congratulations, he said.
Chassion said he’s determined heading into his last term.
“My goal is to achieve the one thing we always said we’re aiming for: an ‘A’ school district and to continue the progress we’ve started at the District 4 schools and to push us over that final hump to greatness,” Chassion said.
Chassion, 38, said he wants to focus on teacher recruitment and retention, selecting a strong superintendent and ensuring students’ individual needs are met as key issues he wants to focus on in his final term.
District 4 includes Dr. Raphael A. Baranco Elementary, J.W. Faulk Elementary, Paul Breaux Middle, Northside High, the W.D. and Mary Baker Smith Career Center, David Thibodaux STEM Magnet Academy and LeRosen Preparatory School.
Heading into election night, Williams said she’d be open to running for the School Board again in the future.
Kate Bailey Labue beat out retired teacher Eva Green to replace Morris in District 7. Morris announced she wouldn’t seek reelection after serving one term on the board.
Labue grew up in Lafayette, left in 1996 to attend LSU for her bachelor’s degree and juris doctor, and returned in 2012 with her husband, Jared Labue, and two children. She promoted her legal background and history of nonprofit leadership during her campaign.
The new District 7 representative voted Saturday with her daughter Maria. Having Maria press the button to vote for Labue in her first political run was a special moment, she said.
“To have my kids along in this whole process was extremely special,” Labue said. “They knocked on doors and came to the forums, because I wanted them to understand the importance of why I was doing what I was doing, to let them know I was running because of their education and to support public schools.”
Now that election night has passed, Labue said she’s focused on coordinating with the existing board members and her new colleagues to ease the transition and ensure “we can be impactful from day one.”
During her run, Labue cited improved communication between the district and stakeholders, more public-private partnerships and developing innovative approaches for sustainable growth as issues she’ll focus on during her tenure.
District 7 encompasses Cpl. Michael Middlebrook Elementary, Katharine Drexel Elementary and Ovey Comeaux High in its boundaries.
Hannah Smith Mason, a local artist and school system parent, beat Diana Lennon to represent District 8 on the Lafayette Parish School Board. Mason replaces Erick Knezek, who announced he wouldn’t run for reelection after one term on the board.
Mason, 40, grew up in the area before leaving for 17 years and returned in 2014 with her family. Her three children attend Woodvale Elementary and L.J. Alleman Middle, and Mason recently served as the vice president of the Woodvale Parent-Teacher Committee.
The new District 8 representative and her family spent Sunday celebrating with a stop at church, popsicles and a trip to Sky Zone trampoline park to thank her children for their support and enthusiastic sign waving in the final weeks of the race.
Mason said she was overwhelmed with gratitude that the community “would trust me with the children and their education.”
“When the results came in, I couldn’t believe it. I thought, ‘I’m really going to get to do this.’ It was a feeling of determination that hit me harder. I have so much work to do, and I’m excited to do it,” Mason said.
The newly elected School Board member identified improved communication, increased pride in the public school system and organizational efficiency as issues she’d like to focus on during her tenure.
District 8 includes Broadmoor Elementary, Milton Elementary and Middle, Woodvale Elementary and L.J. Alleman Middle.
Former superintendent Donald Aguillard leveraged his district leadership experience to win the District 9 seat, handily defeating competitors Hubert Gauthier and Diogo Tavares. He’ll replace Hidalgo, who chose to forego a reelection bid to run for the newly established parish council.
Aguillard said he’s confident he can utilize his intimate knowledge of school system policies and the budgeting process to best serve the residents of District 9.
The former superintendent said he’s already planning meetings with school system staff and his fellow board members to ensure they’re effective come Jan. 1. The board is in a different position than the last, with less borrowing capacity to fund projects, and “the board will have to decide what it wants to hang its hat on to improve education in Lafayette,” Aguillard said.
“I recognize it’s going to be different from the last four years,” Aguillard said. “I want to see if from the other side of the table I can find consensus with other board members and try to effect change. I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
He cited transportation, rezoning, strategic growth planning and increasing professional development opportunities for teachers as key issues to focus on during his board tenure.
The district covers most of the southern section of the parish, including Youngsville and portions of Broussard. The area includes Ernest Gallet Elementary, Green T. Lindon Elementary, Martial F. Billeaud Elementary, Broussard Middle, Youngsville Middle and Southside High.